Being that I get to spend the majority of my time during any given work week as a Banker, I also get to spend the majority of my time during any given work week dressed in the corporate monkey uniform known as a suit. Over the years, I have purchased my suits from a variety of different retailers, all of which have done a consistently exceptional job of ensuring that the purchasing experience they provide is a let down. Why must it be this way? Are menswear retailers disconnected from their clientele or am I just disconnected from menswear retailers? Read on and choose for yourself.
My suit acquisition journey started in my early 20s – as a newly minted member of the workforce. In those days, I’d buy the pants and jacket separately as it was always cheaper that way, I learned quickly that a mismatched suit always offered superior value to one that actually matched. This meant that that more often than not I’d show up to work in a multi-coloured “suit”, something that never really caught on like I had hoped. But back then; my only concern was price, and being able to land 3 pairs of blue polyester pants and 3 polyester green 4-button jackets for less than the cost of the monthly payment on my 2000 hot red Honda Civic hatchback was a major score. Suffice to say, it was not the most refined of suit buying experiences I was looking for in those days, and to be sure, it was not the most refined of suit buying experiences that I received. The salespeople at such cost conscious establishments tended to cap out at the same age as their newly graduated clientele. The pilled, polyester ill-fitting suits these folks were forced to wear looked more like pinstriped bed sheets with a belt cinched around them than anything remotely resembling business wear. Not to mention that the high school students put in charge of selling me a $99 pinstriped bed sheet were likely more familiar with bed sheets and how to discreetly wash them in the middle of the night, then they were about business wear. Fortunately, I didn’t know any better, but the golden age this was not. Phase 1 of my suit acquisition journey – FAIL.
My next stop along the menswear retail continuum was at national department stores such as the Bay. I had now graduated to buying suits that actually matched, having eventually realized that everyone else wore suits of the same colour for a very valid reason. But even with my glamorous matched suits, purchasing a suit from the Bay also left me feeling like the butt of a joke. I’d invariably show up on the one day of the year when the “Bay Days” 125% off promotions were plastered on each and every item in the store except those items that I was interested in purchasing. So I’d buy my matched suit for more than double the price I was previously accustomed to and then have it tailored onsite by the resident tailor whose other job was a stocking shelves in the cutlery department. I’d eagerly return 3 weeks later to pick up Tommy Hilfiger’s finest only to discover that my left leg was apparently 3.5 inches shorter than my right leg. So now, for the privilege of paying double the price of my first few suits, I had now progressed to ill-fitting business wear vs. ill-fitting bed sheets, but I was still in search of the holy grail – a suit that fit and a purchasing experience that wasn’t completely off the charts horrible. Phase 2 of my suit acquisition journey – FAIL.
As the years passed by I started heading a little upmarket to test the waters . . . to the types of stores with marble flooring, minimalist product displays, and prices to make you gag. But most importantly, to the types of stores where the staff aren’t merely menswear salespeople. Rather, they are highly trained male fashionistas who can sell a $95 pair of socks to anyone within a 20-foot radius. They seem to be able to offer up the vomit inducing price of their wares in such a way as to make those prices seem like a Black Friday bargain. Dressed on the bleeding edge of men’s fashion, these male fashionistas casually yet purposefully patrol their designated square footage of the sales floor in search of someone who is, well . . . just like myself. That is to say, someone who is no match for a salesperson that has honed their craft through years of practising aggressive sales techniques.
Male Fashionista Salesperson: That fabric you’re caressing sir, it is hand woven from the woolen underbelly of a Peruvian Mountain Goat. Pleasurably luxurious to stroke isn’t it?
Me: Why yes, yes it is. How much is this particular suit? (And why am I suddenly turned on?)
Male Fashionista Salesperson: That particularly elegant Peruvian Mountain Goat Underbelly Woolen Suit sir, in that distinctly modern silhouette, is well priced at $2,750 (always pronounced “twenty seven-fifty”, as opposed to “TWO THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY GODFORSAKEN CHRIST ALMIGHTY DOLLARS”). It’s the last I have in that size.
Me: Show me to the change room.
Phase 3 of my suit acquisition journey – FAIL.
It is these many years worth of mixed experiences in the menswear shopping field that has left me hoping for some sort of middle ground. Surely a man can purchase a well-fitting, decent quality suit from a salesperson able to offer some sort of helpful advice without me feeling like I am sitting before an extremely well dressed member of the Spanish Inquisition?
The answer I can tell you now, is no.
The Internet has been the answer to many of the woes associated with shopping at traditional retailers. Think Amazon, think Apple, think http://www.discreetdildos.com. But only recently have we seen the rise of online menswear retailers that claim to offer made-to-measure men’s suits at prices similar to those first matched suits I purchased from the Bay. Complimenting their online presence, these internet retailers also have physical showrooms where prospective customers like myself can book an appointment to view various fabrics and styles while also getting all the measurements necessary to make their new custom suit a reality. Sounds like a wonderful idea, right? Well, it should be. Problem is that when I start interacting with salespeople, bad things happen to me and good things happen to the salespeople. See above. This is a fundamental law of the universe, and my recent trip to one such online menswear retailer only serves as further evidence.
It was mid-morning on a beautiful Saturday in late fall when I left my house for my 11am consultation appointment with Eric, I knew his name was Eric because it said so on my email booking confirmation. Appointments were all 1 hour in length, which felt to me like a pretty good amount of time. Getting measured, fitted, styled, and consulted for a solid hour without having to worry about mortgage style financing was something I was very much looking forward to. And it was Saturday morning to boot. Saturday mornings are a true pleasure under any circumstance, but having the opportunity to leave the house by myself without having to drag 2 young children, 3 bags, 4 jackets, 2 iPads, 1 charger, 11 DVDs, 2 sippy cups, 1 colouring book, 1 Darth Vader sword, and a 3 lbs of pizza flavoured gold fish, well, it kind of takes the experience to a whole new level of pleasure. After grabbing a coffee I got in the car, and if memory serves I believe I whistled Dixie, sipped coffee, waved & smiled to all manner of random strangers until pulling up to the shopping mall. Closing my car door, I merrily skipped across the street towards the mall in search of my new pal Eric.
Entering the showroom, I evaluated my surroundings – things were looking good. This place was not at all reflective of “Unmatched Suits 4 Less”, where I first went so many years before. The flooring was shiny hardwood, the display tables weren’t made of plastic, there was no polyester anywhere to be found and to top it all off, the salespeople appeared to have progressed all the way through puberty.
Which one of you lucky bastards is Eric? I thought to myself.
But I wouldn’t soon find out for more than one reason, firstly it was not immediately evident where the hell I was supposed to go in this store to actually meet Mr. Eric. Walking around the store looking for the main check-out/customer service area I quickly realized this was yet another store to adopt the completely annoying Apple Store model:
- No check out area.
- No staff standing in front of computer terminals.
- No idea where the hell you are supposed to go.
So I did what I do whenever I go into an Apple store in search of service, I made my way to the centre of the sales floor, raised my hands above my head, stared at the ceiling, rotated on the spot and began uttering guttural chants until someone came over to assist me. Kidding, but one of these days I just might.
Staring blankly in all directions desperately looking for any potential staff member to acknowledge my existence, a bearded portly man in a super tight navy suit approached me and asked me if he could help.
“Why yes, thank you. I am here for my 11am consultation appointment.”
Without making eye contact, the bearded portly man in a super tight navy suit motioned me to the back of the store where presumably the fun was about to begin. This is the second reason I wasn’t about to find out who Eric was, he never so much as shook my hand let alone introduced himself to me. Call me petty, but if we’re going to be embarking on a 60-minute journey of my body, a little flesh on flesh handshake goes a long way to set the stage.
Just as I was thinking he was a little too fat to be an Eric, the bearded portly man in a super tight navy blue suit eyed me up and gave me the lay of the land like any good salesperson would.
“You here to buy a suit?”
Looking behind me, I unsuccessfully tried to find anything other than suits in the showroom. “Do you sell anything other than suits?”
“Well then yes, I suppose I am here to buy a suit”.
Having got this key piece of information out of the way, Eric commenced with the consultation. Taking his measuring tape from around his neck, he wrapped it tightly around my bicep.
“How’s that feel?”
I wasn’t immediately sure how to respond, “Sorry?”
“How’s that feel?”
“How’s that feel? Um, to be honest, a little tight.” My excitement was quickly fading, I wasn’t feeling the love from Eric and I now had my doubts he had anything more to offer than the bed sheet wearing kids at Unmatched suits 4 Less. Suddenly, 60 minutes with Eric seemed like 59 too many. “If that is what you are basing my sleeve measurement on, I am not sure this is going to work.”
“Oh no, the computer will add extra material.”
“OK, well in that case….it still feels tight.”
“Good to hear.”
Gee, thanks Eric. Eric then moved his measuring tape to my chest, again wrapping it tightly around me and my thick wool sweater.
“How’s that feel?”
“Yeah, again, it feels … tight” I responded.
“No no, remember that extra material will be added”
“Right, so um, it feels good then.” I could see I wasn’t going to win this battle.
Eric then moved to my gut, my crotch, my shoulders, my legs, and my waist.
“How’s that feel?”
“How’s that feel?”
“How’s that feel?”
“How’s that feel?”
“Go…Hey Eric, just out of curiosity….” I cut myself off, resisting the urge to finish my thought.
Eric wrote down my extremely precise measurements on a pad of paper and then put his measuring tape away. He then presumably decided that it was now time to expand his small talk offering from “How’s that feel?” Looking at the Starbucks cup in my hand he offered up “What are you drinking?”
Looking behind me to see if he was talking to anyone else, I looked back at Eric and tried to answer in the most inoffensive tone possible.
“Ah yes, nice.”
Eric could now add Master Conversationalist to his long list of credentials.
Eric then took me around the store to pick out fabrics, styles, and various customizations to the pending work of art his computers in China were about to put together for me. He then unwisely decided to take a second stab at starting a conversation.
“So, any plans this weekend?”
It was Thanksgiving weekend. “No, just Thanksgiving stuff” I responded.
“Oh nice, so like cutting vegetables and stuff?”
Right Eric, my Thanksgiving weekend always comes down to 72 hours of vegetable prep.
“Yeah, pretty much”, I had stopped trying.
Eric then asked me a few questions about how I like my suits to fit, this is where he would really bring all his consultative expertise to the table.
“How long do you like your jackets, in inches?” Eric asked.
Consultation at its finest. “In inches? I have no idea, something on the modern side? But not exactly sure how long in inches to be honest.”
“Yeah, it really comes down to personal preference” Eric added.
“Right, but I simply don’t know what else I am supposed to tell you.”
Eric then wrote something down on his notepad, he could’ve drawn a picture of a stick man for all I knew.
Carrying on with the consultation, “would you like contrast stitching on your suit jacket?”
“I have no idea, contrast stitching? Where? What colour?”
Eric then brought out a sample of the 20 different contrast stitching colours I could choose from. My eyes glazed over at the options, once again I waited for Eric to make some sort of informed recommendation.
“It really just comes down to personal preference,” he finally said.
I resisted the urge to dump my cup of coffee all over Eric’s fat head. “Eric, my personal preference would be for you to take that measuring tape of yours and hang yourself with it” I did not say.
Eric then informed me of the suit, shirt, and tie combo deal they had on. 1 suit, 1 shirt, and 1 tie, all for $600. I didn’t really need a shirt or tie and besides I was really there for another deal I had heard they had, 2 suits for $900.
“You have any other promotions on right now?” I asked.
“Well, you can do 1 suit, 2 shirts, and 2 ties for $650.”
Slightly disappointed that the 2 suits deal had evidently expired, I opted for option 1 and Eric took me over to pick out my accessories, 2 minutes later we were evaluating the tie selection. They had no more than 15 ties in total to choose from and none of them matched the shirt I had chosen, not even in the slightest. So I stood there staring blankly at the ties, waiting for Eric to acknowledge the lack of any suitable options.
I waited some more.
Standing directly behind me, Eric said nothing.
Finally, I felt the need to state the obvious, “To be honest, I don’t see anything that could remotely match my shirt Eric.”
“Yeah, it’s personal preference for sure” Eric responded.
“You keep saying that Eric, but my personal preference would be to have a tie that matches my shirt.”
“For sure, this is a tough one to match. Have you ever thought about going with the classic black tie option?”
Eric then laid down a solid black tie over my purple/blue check shirt. There was nothing classic about it. It looked like shit.
“Tell you what Eric, let’s just scrap the shirt and tie combo deal. I will just take the suit”
“Sounds good,” said Eric. With his go-to “classic black tie” pairing having failed, he had no further suggestions.
It was then time to pay, we had used 35 of our 60 allotted minutes. I was equal parts disappointed and curious. The experience had once again proven to be a let down, but I was legitimately interested to see just what kind of suit Eric and his computers would manage to cook up for me. I asked Eric about how long it would take for the suit to arrive.
“We tell customers 2 weeks, but it can quite often be up to 6”.
Again, 14 more words of wisdom from my good pal Eric.
Eric handed me the credit card machine, the amount owing for 35 minutes of his time and a computer designed suit from China was $500. I paid my $500 and handed the machine back to Eric.
“Now that you guys have all my measurements in the computer, I can order future suits direct off your website without having to come in?” In the off chance that my new suit miraculously fit as desired, not having to deal with Eric in the future would actually be a big bonus.
“For sure, but we always recommend our clients come visit us in the showroom”
“Oh yeah, why exactly is that?” To receive your expert guidance and counsel Eric?
“It’s just a good way for us to stay in touch with our clients, let you know about new fabrics and promotions, that sort of thing. For instance, right now we are offering 2 suits for $900”.
“2 suits for $900 you say?”
“Yeah, a lot of clients like that one” Eric responded flatly, seemingly unaware of our discussion only 20 minutes prior.
“Well, that is the deal I wanted. I asked you earlier and you just mentioned the suit/shirt/tie combo thing. And then you showed me a bunch of shirts and ties that couldn’t possibly be worn together.”
“Right, my mistake.”
“Well that’s fine, but I’d like a 2nd suit please. I’d like that 2 suits for $900 deal.”
Eric fidgeted nervously, he started to go pale. There was another gentlemen nearby, presumably Eric’s manager who Eric was trying desperately yet unsuccessfully to make eye contact with before responding to me.
“I don’t think I can do that. I have already rang you in for $500. Again, my mistake”.
In the same way Eric was going pale, I was turning crimson.
One thing that Eric was about to learn about me was that I hate when salespeople tell me what they “think” they can or cannot do.
“Listen” I started, “this is ridicu…”, the gentlemen Eric was pleading with to intervene lifted his head up from his computer and offered his managerial judgement.
“Just ring the 2nd suit in for $400, not a problem”
Crisis averted, the blood rushed back into Eric’s over-sized head. We went through the motions of picking out a 2nd suit based largely on my “personal preference” and Eric’s expert guidance. As I was rung in for another $400, Eric felt obliged to once again inform me of the hopefully 2, but likely 6 week delivery standard.
Walking out of the store, cold half-drunk coffee in hand, and no longer whistling anything remotely resembling Dixie, I reviewed my invoice from Eric. All looked to be perfectly in order:
2 suits: $900
Please come again soon
Phase 4 of my suit acquisition journey – FAIL.